Book Review : Expositional Leadership

By James Jeffery


We live in a time when an unhealthy distinction has been made between preaching and pastoral care. Preaching — it is thought — addresses the mind, whereas pastoral care addresses the heart. Preaching deals with doctrine, whereas pastoral care deals with practice. In Expositional Leadership: Shepherding God’s People from the Pulpit, Pace and Shaddix challenge this false dichotomy, showing that what happens in the pulpit – namely, exposition of the Word of God – ought to shape all facets of pastoral leadership. In a nutshell, they remind us pastors to keep the main thing the main thing.

In a postmodern world that devalues truth accuses God of being a tyrant, Pace and Shaddix remind us that expositional preaching is not inherently domineering or bigoted. Rather, it is the starting point for loving and graciously leading the people of God. Nothing less than the Word of God has the power to destroy spiritual strongholds and lead us into the Kingdom of our beautiful Saviour. Expositional preaching, therefore, is the hallmark of servant-hearted pastoral leadership. After all, what is more pastoral than leading someone to hear the voice of their chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ?

At the core of Expositional Leadership is the conviction that Scripture is what our Triune God uses to transform pastors and their ministries. They write:

Expositional leadership is the pastoral process of shepherding God’s people through the faithful exposition of his word to conform them to the image of his Son by the power of his Spirit.

When the Bible is excavated and treasured for all that it is worth, preaching becomes more edifying, beneficial, practical, and Christ-centred. This inevitably blesses the people God has called us to serve by shaping them into the image of their Saviour.

The book itself is broken down into six chapters, each of which gives an alliterative adjective describing one facet of expository leadership (e.g., Chapter 1 – Scriptural Leadership from the Pulpit; Chapter 2 – Spiritual Leadership from the Pulpit). While the whole book is practical, the initial chapters set out the biblical case for the practice of expository preaching. The latter chapters explore the practicalities and pitfalls of expository preaching in the life of the local church.

In my reading of Expositional Leadership, three particular things stood out:

1. Love and Expository Preaching

In our age, there are few churches that uphold the primacy of passionate, expository preaching. While there may be various reasons for this trend, it ultimately flows from the conviction that other voices are more important than the voice of the living God.

In Preaching and Preachers (1971), Martyn Lloyd Jones proclaimed that there is ‘no task more important, no calling any higher, and no work more noble than preaching the Word of God’. Pace and Shaddix develop this conviction by suggesting there is nothing more loving to God’s people than faithfully preaching the Word of God week after week: “Overall, directing the hearts of our congregants toward the gospel will not only be our greatest act of service but also our greatest form of leadership.”

The fundamental responsibility of every pastor is to faithfully exposit the Word of God from the pulpit each Sunday. This is the chief way he pastorally cares for God’s people and reminds God’s people that the authority to which we all submit is the God of creation who has spoken through His Word. All other ministries flow from preaching, the central calling and duty of every under-shepherd of God’s flock (2 Timothy 4:2).

Pace and Shaddix remind us that there is nothing more practical that preaching the Word of God. Resisting the dualistic mentality which implicitly divides the Christian life into the spiritual and the practical, they write:

In pastoral preaching, if we’re truly spiritually minded, we will be helpful to others in practical ways. And if we’re helping them in practical ways, we’ll probably be helping them in spiritual ways.

The content and application of our sermons are both to be shaped by this conviction. It influences not only what we preach, but how we preach it. They write:

In order to serve and lead effectively from the pulpit, we must display a heart of love when we preach. The heart of a servant is made obvious by how he performs the task he is assigned. If it’s done grudgingly or apathetically, it reveals a heart of disrespect toward the master he serves. If it’s done with arrogance or aggression, it reveals a heart of superiority toward the people he serves. But, when his duty is performed carefully and thoughtfully, it displays a heart of sincere affection for his master and the people. In the same way, our preaching should reflect a heart of love for our Lord and his church.

Furthermore, we must be willing to be corrected and face criticism, even when it is potentially unjustified. By doing so, we acknowledge that our preaching always has room for improvement, and that our calling is to suffer for the sake of our people:

We also can’t take it personally when there’s a lack of affirmation or appreciation for our preaching. In fact, we must be willing to receive criticism, even when it’s unfounded, and our people must see that we are humble and teachable. Servants don’t serve to be told, “Good job!” and they shouldn’t get upset if someone shows them where they can improve. As servant-leaders, when we face these situations and responses to our preaching, we must exhibit patience and long-suffering by absorbing the heat and shining the light. As Paul writes in Galatians, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (6:9).

Thus, on the one hand, we have a resolute commitment to faithfully expositing God’s Word. On the other hand, we must be open to correction and feedback, that our preaching may improve for the benefit of God’s people. In the words of Spurgeon, we are like chefs, preparing meals from God’s Word for God’s people. We must prepare our sermons in love and deliver them with grace.

2. The Pitfalls of Preaching

Pace and Shaddix warn of various pitfalls we can face in preaching. For one, there exists the temptation to show partiality in sermon application. While there is a time and place for calling out false teachers by name (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 3 John 9-10), the authors warn us against the temptation to single out congregation members. They argue that a loving and warm demeanour towards God’s people is one of the greatest protections against this tendency.

Second, we run the risk of either neglecting hot-button cultural issues out of fear or preaching against them in a judgmental manner. They write:

To be clear, we should never minimize sin or shy away from addressing cultural issues that are biblically immoral and unethical. But our tone must be loving and compassionate toward people who currently struggle with those things, made past decisions that they now regret, or have family members or close friends who are lost and living an ungodly lifestyle. We must guard our hearts from being critical of others or flippant about their struggles.

Finally, Pace and Shaddix remind us to see people through an eternal lens. Every person we preach to will live forever, either in heaven, or in hell. As C.S. Lewis once said:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.[1]

This conviction gives a sense of immediacy to preaching and leads us to plead with non-believers to trust in the Saviour. Using the model of the Apostle Paul, the authors remind us to ‘preach with compassion, urgency, and desperation so that they might be rescued by the gospel’.

This demands that all pastors re-evaluate the way we preach. Is our focus to gain new church members, or to save people from God’s judgment? Is our desire to grow our kingdom, or to mature people in Christ, knowing they will live forever?

Though it may be hard to admit, it may be that the lack of fruit in our ministries is related to a lack of prayer that God would instil in us a deep conviction of the nature of our task. On this note, we are reminded of the words of Richard Baxter: “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”

3. Leadership Literature and Pastoral Leadership

Pace and Shaddix signal concerns with the growing prevalence and influence of secular leadership literature amongst pastors. Specifically, many shepherds of God’s church are led to believe that the key to ministry success is understanding leadership principles from secular literature.

While there are certainly things Christians can glean from such literature (as Augustine argued, ‘all truth is God’s truth’), Pace and Shaddix argue that the fundamental starting point is wrong for secular leadership. In contrast to secular leadership, God calls pastoral leaders to be driven not by a desire for influence, but by humble servitude. Christ-centred leadership seeks to make Christ big and self small; we become lesser, and He becomes greater.

They write:

“Based on Jesus’s life and ministry, it’s impossible to construct a paradigm for expositional leadership apart from understanding it as servant leadership.” (p. 83)

Pace and Shaddix continue:

Through the faithful exposition of God’s word, we can honour the Master we serve, embody his character with the methods we employ, and reflect his heart in the motives we adopt.

While in principle, there is nothing wrong with seeking to grow as a leader, pastors should be preoccupied with what it means to serve as slaves of Christ. Following the example of our Saviour, pastors should seek to serve and give our lives for the benefit of others (Mark 10:45). Secular leadership has no category for such self-giving and self-abasing leadership.

This is to say, when pastors seek to be better servants, they inevitably become greater leaders. In one sense, there is no better example of this than submitting to Christ’s command to feed His sheep with His words (cf. John 21:17-18). By doing this, we guard our people from making us the focus of pastoral ministry, avoid hobby horses, and ensure that God sets the agenda regarding what His people need.

The Bottom Line

Expositional Leadership is a book every pastor, teacher, or elder in Christ’s church should read. It is also suitable for young men who are investigating whether the Lord has called them into pastoral ministry. It shows how the Word of God shapes all facets of church life, from prayer to the pulpit, and from pastoral care to practical application.

Regular church members would also profit from Expositional Leadership as it provides a biblical framework for what our pastors are called to do. This helps us to know how to pray for our pastors, and reminds us to praise God for the work He is doing through them for our sanctification.